If you’re looking for this week’s sign that climate change is upon us and having an immediate impact on our planet, look no further than this story. It takes a look at what’s happening in the Bering Strait at the moment, where something incredibly unusual is happening. That body of water is normally frozen over this time of year, but instead it is almost completely ice free. Something that has never been seen before.
For those unfamiliar with this part of the world, the Bering Strait sits between Alaska and Russia, with just 55 miles (88 km) separating North America from Asia at its narrowest point. Typically, this waterway begins freezing over in the fall and by March each year it is covered in a thick sheet of ice. In most cases, that ice hangs around until May when the spring thaws finally start to clear it out.
This year however, satellite images show that the ice extent is at its lowest point in the 40 years since it has been observed. This is the second year in a row that such conditions have been seen, with climatologists indicating that a warming Arctic region is to blame. In fact, according to the article linked above, the Arctic is now warming at a rate that is twice that of the rest of the planet, which could spell dire consequences in the years ahead.
Most researchers believe that Bering Sea is being hit with a two-pronged attack. Not only is the air getting warmer, but the temperatures of the sea are increasing too. This has caused the ice to form much later than normal and disappear much more rapidly as well in recent years. But in the case of this season, it barely grew at all. Usually warm winds have played a large role in the melt off this year too, but they can’t account for how low the ice extent is this year
I suspect we’re only going to continue to see these stories continue to reoccur in the years ahead. The Northwest Passage does still freeze over each winter for instance, but that ice is thinner and less stable then in the past and it disappears much more quickly too. It may not be long before the entire passage and the Bering Sea will be navigable all year round. That seemed like a ludicrous thought not too many years ago, and now it appears close to becoming a reality.